Tech+ Mailbag: How to stop annoying autoplay audio and video and what the internet and advertising industry is doing about it
Q : While viewing email, uninvited audio commercials unexpectedly interfere. How can I prevent these uninvited audios? — Ellis barker, Arvada, CO
Tech+: Yes, that is super annoying. If I want to watch a video, just give me the option to hit “play.”
Auto-play videos used to be easier to avoid because many sites used Adobe’s Flash technology. Disabling Flash meant videos won’t play unless you manually turn the player on.
But sneaky ads constantly get through, thanks to demand from companies hoping to make a dime or more off visitors in exchange for something that is usually free (including The Denver Post — it’s one way to help us pay the bills).
Of course, the opposite also is true. Technology helps advertisers get past ad blockers, but then ad blockers revamp, revise and come out with new ways to block unwanted messages again.
The free and popular AdBlock Plus, for example, blocks many ads for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Android and other browsers.
But since 2011, it’s also taken the tactic to allow “acceptable ads,” which the company says encourages the industry to develop less annoying, less obtrusive ads since everybody knows that the whole point of advertising is for someone to make money. Not acceptable? “Autoplay-sound or video ads,” are ads that would be blocked.
AdBlock Plus, however, does allow users to opt out of all ads. Details are at adblockplus.org/en/acceptableads#optout
The latest trend is trying to find a middle ground between consumers and the advertisers and companies providing the often free content. The Coalition for Better Ads, for example, is studying disruptive ads that leave a poor user experience.
The organization studied what ads would not be acceptable to consumers and some results include auto-play video ads with sound, flashing animated ads and large ads that are difficult for a user to exit out of.
We haven’t found a happy compromise but companies like Google, a member of the Coalition, is working on integrating an ad-blocker to its Chrome browser that would filter out ads deemed annoying.
According to a Wall Street Journal story, Google’s interest is to “quell further growth of blocking tools,” some of which charge users a fee. There’s also a huge financial reason. Google generated $60 billion in revenue from online advertising in 2016, so if its clients’ ads are getting blocked by third-party ad blockers, they’ll go elsewhere.
That said, there are a plethora of other third-party ad blockers. The best way to find one that fits you is to open your internet browser and look for the add-ons or extensions. These are typically “stores” within the browser that let you download new tools for the specific browser.
•Google’s Chrome Web store (go to extensions)
•Firefox: Type “about:addons” in the search bar
•Internet Explorer: Go to the Internet Explorer Gallery at microsoft.com/en-us/iegallery
•Apple is adding auto-play blocking software with its upcoming Mac OS High Sierra operating system.
A few others that come to mind:
•With more sites dropping Adobe Flash’s video player in favor of HTML5 technology, there are now HTML5 autoplay blockers like Disable HTML5. The developer of this Chrome extension recently stopped updating the software in June because he feels Google is now working on it. But it still works.
•Instead of searching for an ad blocker, try software that blocks tracking, like Abine. It offers a series of online security tools, including the antitracker Blur to help web users stop advertisers from tracking their searches.
And then for nonbrowser autoplay:
•To disable auto-play videos in Facebook, go to your user settings, find “Videos” and turn off the “Auto-Play Videos” feature.
•For email users, consider going with an alternative free email service if you don’t want to see video ads. Looks like Yahoo mail, for example, won’t let you disable auto-play videos, but you can use a thirdparty ad blocker.
I have no idea if we’ll ever find a good compromise on advertising and content. But as consumer frustration builds, some of the biggest companies appear to be listening. So keep it up. If you’ve got a suggestion for Ellis, leave a comment on the story at dpo.st/2uokSo4. Or send me an email.
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